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Archive for the ‘Chic Chicago’ Category

Dorothy will be celebrating her 92nd birthday in August.  When she was in her 30’s and 40’s, she was a buyer for high end women’s clothing at Marchall Field’s on State Street in Chicago..

She still holds strong opinions about the course of fashion history, trashing most of the fashion developments from the hippies on through the recent “nighties” look–her term .  She likes a clean, well tailored line.  She believes in elegance and understatement.  But she loves the boots that have come into fashion lately, the elegant understated ones, of course.   I suggested we show her in the Jacques Fath “day dress” from 1951, which I know from the Chic Chicago exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. (I drew visitors at the Chicago History Museum during that exhibit.  See posts under “Chic Chicago” in this blog.) The Chic Chicago Fath dress was blue, but beige was the epitome of elegance for Dorothy during her working life. This drawing is inspired by photos of her when she was 38 or so.   Oh, and smoking added to the elegance back then.  Hmmmmm.   Happy Birthday, Dorothy!  Thank you, George and Mike.

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At the Chic Chicago exhibit the third most popular dress after the Infanta (see post  1.29.11) was the evening gown by Charles Fredrick Worth, 1884, made in France.  Worth was an Englishman who set up shop in Paris in 1846, at the age of 21.  He dressed the aristocracy including the French empress Eugenie and the actor Sarah Bernhardt.  He is credited with starting haute couture, fashion shows with runways and the dictatorship of designers. The evening gown we had in the show was made of silk and velvet and was considered, in its day, to be quite daring because of its restraint and omission of decorations. To me it has a military look, despite the fact that the corset cinches the waist.  Another comparison that comes to mind is that the woman is behind bars.  The slavish status of women at that time was clearly reflected in the fashion.  You can argue that this was a step towards greater freedom of movement from the hoop skirts of the 1860’s but, clearly, we had a long way to go.

Ann Hollander, in her book “Seeing Through Clothes,” says that at any time in history the clothes that people wear are thought to be natural to the body.  If that’s true, then the Victorians had a pretty perverse notion of nature.

The women who chose to be drawn in this gown were either getting in touch with their inner submissive scullery maid or the madam of a house, or they had a riotous sense of humor about the dress and what it stood for.  As you can see from my adaptation of Mr. Worth’s creation, I fell in with the riotous crowd. ———————————————-

 

 

 

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All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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After the red dress (see posts for 12.4.10 and 12.31.10) the second most requested dress was the “Infanta” evening gown by Charles James (1906-1978), designed 1952.  It had been donated to the Chicago History Museum by Mrs. Nancy Epstein.  The bodice , which extended over the hips in a front and back v-shape, was made, not of satin or some other shiny fabric, but  of tiny, glittering black beads.  It must have been heavy.  Under the black tulle of the skirt there was a layer of peach colored tulle.  (Though I don’t know if tulle is the correct technical term here.)

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Many mature women chose this spectacular dress.  It was also the most popular dress for girls under twelve.  For them I often recommended that they choose another color besides black, either pink or turquoise, and sometimes they saw my point but some girls stuck with the black.  Needless to say, they all came out looking much older than they actually were.

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The word Infanta refers to the title of a Spanish princess in the 17th century.

Charles James adapted the Infanta style in other fabrics.  A more day-time version of the Infanta style is in the Met’s collection.  See  it at http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/the_costume_institute/infanta_charles_james/objectview.aspx?collID=8&OID=80096834

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Chic Chicago attracted primarily women.  But it was also an occasion for a few males.   I drew exactly ten men in dresses during those ten months.   Six of these chose the red dress.  Now, the red dress was a slinky thing in silk crepe and you could wear it like a major expression of your inner lady-in-red, or you could regard it as useless feminine yardgoods.  A couple of casual conversational exchanges with the gentleman revealed to me which category I was dealing with: he was either gay, or so straight that this silliness didn’t faze him at all.

Because of the setting—a book store in a museum!—I couldn’t go wild with this work.  But when Wayne from Montana sat down and asked me to draw him in the red dress, I knew he was egging me on to come up with something.  Hey, full frontal nudity, fine with me, go for it.  Right, Wayne, I can do that at 11:00 p.m. at some party where the shoes and ties came off an hour ago, but not here in this pristine, sun-drenched tourist spot that takes itself verrrry seriously.

—————————————So, I did my loincloth compromise.  Still pretty funny.  His wife Ruby responded with an expression of tolerance.  But he loved it…may well have been the highlight of his day.

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Chic Chicago: The Red Dress

Chic Chicago ran from September 2008 to June 2009.  In those ten months I probably drew three hundred to four hundred visitors, every one of them wearing one of the gowns in the exhibit.  By far, the most popular dress was the red evening gown from 1938, a design attributed to the French designer Marcelle Chaumont.  It had been worn by Mrs. Howard Linn, née Lucy McCormick Blair before she donated it to the Chicago History Museum.

A long strip of fabric (silk crepe) threads itself over the left shoulder, down to the right thigh, around the back, and back up to the shoulder.  Along this route a thin loop could be slipped through a finger of the left hand, allowing the wearer to ham it up when making an entrance.  Strike that, strike “ham it up.”  Let’s say, the Lady in Red made an entrance.  At any rate, that’s the only way I could imagine this dress. Entering and, maybe waltzing.

It was the dream dress of ten-year-olds and grandma’s; of the thin and the plump; of a shrink and a house cleaner; of Muslim and Moody Bible Christian.  I’ll show a few of those happy ladies in red here.

But, what is it about a red dress, exactly?  Has anyone made a study of its drop-dead allure?

 

 

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The Chicago History Museum ran a hugely popular exhibit called “Chic Chicago” for about a year starting in September 2008.  I was the lucky caricaturist.  What!!  A caricaturist for such an elegant affair!?  Yes, moi.  I do elegant when elegant I see.

“Chic Chicago” was an exhibit of sixty-four historic gowns from the 1850’s to the present.  All gowns had been designed for and worn by Chicago society ladies who then donated the gowns to the museum.

Women of all ages came in droves, alone or more often in clusters of three or four, as in “ladies who lunch.”  Little girls were tickled pink to see themselves portrayed in these sophisticated gowns . Tourists, of course, also visited in great numbers from all over the world and for them, I’m guessing, this was an extra treat.  The treat was not just seeing the exhibit, but then to wander downstairs and get a caricature by a fairly well known Chicago artist.  I was set up in the spacious, light-flooded gift shop.  The drawings were free.  After assuring the visitor that this was indeed the case,  I asked in what gown she would like to be drawn.  We had postcards of the gowns at hand to refresh the memory and to tickle the imagination.  I can’t describe to you how much fun this was–for the visitors and me.

More on this truly fabulous gig in future posts.

The  small sampling in this post starts with Alison (above) wearing the “Delphos” gown in pleated silk by Mariano Fortuny of Italy, 1948

Next is Alana, age 12, wearing the “Infanta” evening gown (glass beads, silk net) by Charles James, USA, c. 1952

Then Amanda in an evening gown by Charles Frederick Worth, France c. 1884.

Avis, hobbling in now,  is wearing the “Sorbet” evening gown (silk satin and glass beads) by Paul Poiret, France 1913

To conclude this introduction to “Chic Chicago,” Cardi enters in the red evening gown attributed to Marcelle Chaumont, Fance c.1938

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